TAORMINA, Italy (AFP) – Group of Seven (G-7) leaders on Saturday (May 27) wrapped up their annual summit with an unprecedented display of division over climate change as US President Donald Trump rebuffed pressure to toe the collective line in the club of powerful democracies.
Trump tweeted that he would reveal his hand only next week as to whether he will keep the United States in the Paris accord, a global pact on curbing carbon emissions that he vowed to jettison when campaigning for the White House.
The G-7 leading economies, in an extraordinary summit statement, acknowledged that six members were committed to upholding the 2015 accord while the United States stood apart.
“The United States of America is in the process of reviewing its policies on climate change and on the Paris Agreement and thus is not in a position to join the consensus on these topics,” the statement said in highly-unusual language.
Despite the discord, Trump concluded his first overseas trip on a typically bullish note, telling US service families at the Sigonella base in Sicily he had “hit a home run” shortly before taking off to fly back home.
Condemning this week’s deadly terror attacks in Manchester and Egypt, Trump said such atrocities “steel our resolve”.
“Together, civilised nations will crush the terrorists, block their funding, strip them of their territory and drive them out of this earth,” he said.
A short time later, scuffles broke out among protesters near the ancient hilltop town of Taormina where the summit had taken place under high security.
'SIX AGAINST ONE'
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also crossed swords with Trump on free trade at the G-7, complained that the US President was keeping his colleagues in the dark.
“The whole discussion on the topic of climate was very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory,” she told reporters, labelling the G-7 deadlock as “six against one”.
On trade, the G-7 vowed “to keep our markets open and to fight protectionism”, but also to combat “unfair trade practices” and help those left behind by globalisation, after Trump came to power vowing “America First”.
On other fronts, the G-7:
Noted that the global economy remains patchy with downside risks, pledging “to use all policy tools” to sustain growth;
Threatened stronger sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea if Moscow’s actions warrant it;
Condemned nuclear-armed North Korea’s recent missile tests and said they were ready to take new measures as necessary after various rounds of UN sanctions;
Demanded support from Russia and Iran for a peace process in Syria, and similarly called for an inclusive dialogue in Libya.
After starting his first presidential trip abroad wreathed in smiles, Trump ended it with rebukes, upbraiding America’s European partners over military spending, trade and global warming.
An enduring motif of the G-7, which represents the lion’s share of global economic output, has been to champion free trade.
At last year’s summit in Japan, leaders issued a lengthy communique in support of resisting protectionism, as well as helping refugees and fighting climate change.
But that was then, when Barack Obama still occupied the White House. Today, his successor is defiant about defying the G-7 line after accusing China, Germany and others of cheating in international trade.
Trump reportedly described the Germans as “bad, very bad” in their trade practices while visiting Brussels this past week.
“We had very hard deliberations and discussions about trade but we found a reasonable solution,” Merkel said, stressing the G-7 statement’s commitment to open markets.
The G-7’s Italian presidency held this year’s summit in the Mediterranean island of Sicily to underline the proximity of the migrant crisis.
But even that prompted discord among participants as Trump resisted the hosts’ desire to issue a declaration underlining the benefits as well as pitfalls of migration.
That sort of language is anathema to a White House that wants to impose a ban on travellers from six Muslim-majority countries.
The G-7 statement recognised the human rights of migrants and refugees.
But with Trump promising to build a “beautiful” wall on the US-Mexico border, it also said: “we reaffirm the sovereign rights of states, individually and collectively, to control their own borders”.
In a telling sign of the divisions now plaguing the G-7, this year’s statement came in at a meagre six pages – down from 32 pages last year.
The summit did find common ground on Friday in endorsing a British call urging Internet service providers and social media companies to crack down on militant content online after 22 people were killed by a suicide bomber in the northwestern English city of Manchester this week.
But while Trump did battle on an array of summit fronts, he also found himself dogged by new allegations as investigations proceed in Washington into whether Russian meddling helped his election victory last year.
The Washington Post reported that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, made a pre-inauguration proposal to the Russian ambassador to set up a secret, bug-proof communications line with the Kremlin.
There was no immediate comment from the White House, but Trump has angrily rejected allegations of such collusion.